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The Devil’s Backbone . . . an acropolis on the Ohio River

The Devil’s Backbone . . . an acropolis on the Ohio River


President Thomas Jefferson considered Devil’s Backbone to be one of the most important archaeological sites in the United States.  He directed Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to survey the archaeological zone before heading up the Missouri River.  Clark County, Indiana, where the stone ruins are located, is named after William’s brother, General George Rogers Clark.   The Devil’s Backbone is still arguably the most important archaeological site in Indiana, but has yet to be comprehensively studied thoroughly by archaeologists.  The State of Indiana has not even placed it on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is part of a state park, but off limits to hikers from the park.  When the inaccessible archaeological zone occasionally gets publicity from the state government or local chamber of commerce, the word-spinners emphasize its folkloric explanation as “the last castle built by Prince Madoc of Wales.”   What the acropolis most resembles is a Moche fortress in Peru . . . but how could that be?

In the same month of 2011 that I stumbled upon the Track Rock Terrace Complex I was retained to study the Devil’s Backbone.  At the time,  I was living in the chicken house near Track Rock Gap.  It was my first professional commission since early 2009.  Two Indiana film makers were frustrated because they couldn’t get Midwestern archaeologists to thoroughly study the site or even state an opinion in front of a video camera.  Thus, I simultaneously became aware of very sophisticated irrigation techniques on the Ohio River and in the mountains of Georgia.  The realization made me completely re-think my understanding of North America’s past. To read my updated architectural report on the Devil’s Backbone, go to:

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Richard, the Moche are one of the Native American cultures that used the same symbol as Tuscaloosa in 1540. The Aztecs also used the same flag symbol as Tuscaloosa for Quetzalcoatl / Kukulkan in artwork. It seems there was a major trade operation using seaports and river cities associated with the different cultures of Peru / Para peoples of South America as far as the Ohio river. Unknown to most the Paracus skulls have been found from the Great lakes to Peru and were likely the Nobles or religious leaders of the vast area from South America, Central America to at least the Ohio area. As stated to Mr.Brigstock they claimed to be Great builders of Roads and cities.

    • I agree with you totally, sir! Why don’t the academicians read the available eyewitness accounts?


        That is an easy one… They might become controversial, which likely results in career suicide. We are all victims of the good and the not so good baggage of the dominant British/Euro culture of the USA. In summary, “Things are like we say they are and we expect you to behave and think properly”…


    The Cox – Borden survey found zero remains of houses. And this was before the railroad dug out all the cultural remains. There were five mounds, however, not distinctive of Moche.

    • I was given an archaeological survey that showed both rectangular and round houses. However, this survey was just that. Minimal excavation occurred. Only the round houses were typical of Peru. The others were not. Did you read my report? Why would the railroad excavated a mesa 220+ feet above the Ohio River?


    Hello Richard, i’m Firman from Surabaya, Indonesia, it’s a country at…… well you can found it on google. I’m interested with your website and, it is very interesting on how you revealing many obscured history of Native American people, and… well maybe you can look on more connection between Indonesia – and surrounding archipelago with American people in the very forgotten past times. But there are interesting fact on this article, about President Thomas Jefferson considered Devil’s Backbone as important archaeological sites. Was there any awareness about Zoque, Muskogean or Moche sites in North American soil ?

    Thank you, Richard


      I’m sorry Richard, what i want to write in the last line should be : “Was there any awareness about Zoque, Muskogean or Moche sites in North American soil during early 1800’s ?”

      thank you Richard

    • Twenty years ago, I was in love with a lovely lady from Sumatra. She looked so much like my mother, who is Creek Indian, that people thought that she was her daughter. She was chased out of my life by my stepfather . . . who was just weird. What else can I say.

      Yes, there was significant awareness of these sites in Georgia, but no one knew who built them. A pioneer archaeologist in Georgia, Charles C. Jones, Jr. wrote a book in 1873, which proved that the Creek Indians were descended from the people, who built these large mounds.


        Wow really, you knew which part of Sumatra she came from ? it is fascinating, when she looked like your mother, well many Indonesian well known people or celebrities are look like Native American in physical appearances.

        So as early as 19th Century some American archaeologist have already knew about how advance Proto-Creek or Creek culture has been. Was there any archaeologists beside Charles C. Jones, Jr whom realized about this fact ?

        • My Sumatran girlfriend and her brothers grew up in Medan, Sumatra. They all studied at colleges in the Atlanta, Georgia, USA area. Actually, back in the mid-1800s, there were no other archaeologists in the Southeastern United States other than Charles C. Jones.


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